Technology gone too far

During my vacation we rented a car so we could drive around the Lot and Dordogne regions of France and then make the journey to Nice. The helpful people at Sixt upgraded us so we had a brand new saloon from a well known German manufacturer. I'm a big fan of German automotive engineering, my last three cars having been a Volkswagen Corrado VR6 and two Audi S3s. However, there were several 'features' of this particular vehicle that really got on my nerves due to the efforts of the designers to provide as many drivers aids as possible.

The first was just starting the car. Rather than the conventional ignition key I had a device that was inserted into the dashboard and then the engine was started and stopped by means of a button. Fine, no problem with this, since I understand that one of the main ideas behind this is to reduce the possibility of shearing your kneecap off on the ignition key in the event of a big front end collision. What I really didn't like was the fact that the engine refused to start unless I had the clutch depressed. In twenty five years of driving I'm pretty sure I've only ever tried to start the car in gear on maybe two or three occasions. I'd rather the car check the gearbox was in neutral than forcing me to put the clutch in whenever I want to start the car. Very irritating.

Not nearly as irritating, though as the 'auto start' function. At the first toll road I pulled up to the barrier, put the handbrake on and put the car in neutral. At this point the engine stopped. WTF? It seems that to 'aid fuel economy' and to 'reduce emissions' the car will just kill the engine when you stop and do what I did. The engine will restart when you press the clutch again, or after about a minute of sitting there doing nothing. Talk about irritating. The good news was that there was a button on the dashboard that would turn this 'feature' off. The bad news was you had to press the button every time you started the car; it didn't remember that I wanted to be in control of the car, not the car.

Which leads us to the next thing that irked me. When driving along part of the display would tell you when the car thought you were in the wrong gear. If I wanted the car to choose which gear I should be in I'd have got an automatic! Geez, what's wrong with letting the driver drive the car?

I remember Jeremy Clarkson doing a very funny bit on Top Gear where he test drove a very powerful German saloon car (of the same make as this). He tested the 0-100kph time which worked out at about five minutes by the time he'd selected the correct suspension settings, gearbox change speed and so on. This car was similar, just trying to get cool air to come out of the vents at a reasonable rate took forever going through menu options.

The last thing was that all of the controls seemed to be fly-by-wire which extended to the indicators and windscreen wipers. What this meant is that the stalk for the indicators would always be in the central position. Moving the stalk would turn the indicators on but not leave the stalk in the position that meant you knew where the indicators were indicating. I know it's a small thing, but it just didn't work for me. The 'automatic' mode for the wipers was useless since it never seemed to wipe the screen when I wanted it to and in this mode I spent more time activating the wipers manually than I would have done using intermittent mode (something I was never actually able to figure out how to make happen).

Another case of design gone too far without enough thought...


Too funny ... Makes me appreciate my '72 Ford F-100 Super Sport Pickup Truck ... until I drive it in the North Carolina Heat and remember it doesn't have Air Conditioning ...

Posted by David Simmons on July 14, 2008 at 05:43 PM BST #

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